Tuesday, August 31, 2010


Buying textbooks for college (or for really lucky people high school and college) is a huge expense.  Lets say you buy a book from the bookstore for $200.   If you are lucky, they will buy it back from you at $100, then turn around and resell it for $175 and repeat.  Someone's taking advantage of you to the tune of a ton of money.

Recently I was told about textbook rentals.  Basically someone really clever bought a ton of textbooks for the full price and rents them out at around 25% of full price.  If the publisher can manage not to put out a new version every year, then the people renting the books make good money.  Sure you still are being taken advantage of, but you are also saving a ton of money by not getting screwed by the bookstores.

Chegg is the rental site I recommend, since they buy back any books that you may have sitting around (Which makes me think I might be able to convert junk to money at home).  They also apparently plant a tree if you rent from them.  And that keeps teenagers and strange blue skinned, green haired superheros off your back.  

Finally, I managed to find you a coupon for the site:
This coupon saves you 5% off a rental, and gives you $5 when you sell them books.
Coupon Code:  CC135316

Hopefully this post can help someone, somewhere.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Plants vs. Zombies

You may have heard of Plants vs. Zombies, it is a tower defense style game where you defend your yard from the undead using different types of plants and fungi.  This game has been ported to just about every system except for the Android phones.  No idea why they seem to miss out on all the games.  You can find Plants versus Zombies for Windows, Mac OSX, iPhone, and next year to the Nintendo DS as well.  The price ranges from 2.99 for the iPhone app to around 19.99 for the Windows version.  Pro-tip: The iPhone app is cheaper.  The other versions have additional features to make up for the price discrepancy.

The game itself is pretty simple, you plant sunflowers to generate sunlight, which you use to purchase offensive and defensive plants.  Zombies enter from the right side of the screen and attempt to get to your house on the left.  When the game starts off, you have weak zombies, one plant type, and only one lane to defend.
Look a "screenshot"  How advanced.
You earn a new seed packet at the end of almost every level, and the game ramps up to five lanes to defend.  The zombies start wearing armor and using interesting tactics.  The battle does not stay on the lawn, but progresses to the pool and the roof as well.  The difficulty builds at just the right speed, making this is a very enjoyable game.
A later level.
There is a lot of humor packed in the game as well.  All of the plant and zombie descriptions are worth reading for this reason.  The designer of this game also made Insane Aquarium, which was a fun flash game from a long time ago.
There are a few achievements to get, a lot of them are quite difficult to get before you complete the game the first time, so there is a lot to come back for.

  • A very simple to understand game, but the slowly building complexity keeps it interesting.
  • The game has good music and effects.  Also they make a good music video.
  • Once you beat the game the first time, a lot of extras open up, so there is good replay value.
  • There are 49 types of Plants, and 26 types of Zombies, so there is a lot of variety.
  • The game has quite a few references, and the developers have a good sense of humor.
  • Playing this game could lead to a reliance on plants in a real world zombie attack.  Early studies have shown most plants to have neither the inclination to defend their owner nor the singing voice of the plants in the game.
Final Thoughts:
Even though it costs $2.99 on iPhone, the amount of play time the game has makes it worth the price.  I easily spent 100x the amount of time playing this as I spent using Epicwin.  It might not seem fair to compare a productivity app with a game, but since there are more efficient cheaper or free alternatives for productivity, it seems okay to spend the same money on a game.

We all know that I have pretty high standards.  This means that if I actually go on the record as liking something, it is either really good, or the developer's taken my family hostage and are forcing me to write a good review in exchange for their release.  Worth looking into in either case.

Even rarer that my approval however, is the approval of my wife, who is not a gamer.  If you see this seal, you know this game might even be liked by your non game playing friends.
Pretty Snazzy, huh?
Don't ask how long I spent making that... I'm not proud.  Well, maybe just a little proud.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010


If you are like me, and I know I am, then you like getting a good deal on everything you do.  There are many places online to get good deals, although some take time and effort to sort through all the deals they offer.  Since time is money, we don't have time for things that take time.

That's where Woot!  really shines.  The site's motto is "one day, one deal" and that's exactly how the site works.  Everyday at midnight Central time a new item is listed.  The item stays on the site until it sells out.  The exact number that they have is not stated, but they usually do not sell out until late in the day if at all.  Woot usually has a very good price, although sometimes the electronics are refurbished.  If this is the case it will be stated right below the price.

Woot typically sells electronics, but I've seen good deals on all sorts of things from ladders, tool sets and cooking gear to bags of crap.  In addition to the main site they have three main side sites, selling wine, shirts, kids stuff, and random stuff.  The shirts are user created and can be pretty creative.  I never really checked out the wine or kids sites, but I've drank some of the wine and I can endorse the quality if not the price.

If you use the Google chrome browser, there is a very nice add-in called Woot! Watcher that will pull pictures and prices of the items for sale at the five main sites.  It also tells you if they are sold out and allows you to buy through the add-in.  There is a feature that will also auto-buy a bag of crap, although I haven't had any success with that yet.  There is a similar add in for Firefox, if that is the browser you choose.

Bags of Crap are very rare items that sell for very cheap (I think around $5), and usually contains 5-20x the value of what you paid for it of random crap.  It is the most sought-after item on the sites.

Finally, there is a deals site on Woot with hundreds of user submitted deals, but wading through that can be much more time consuming, so I usually don't venture in there.

Woot is a lot fun to use, just remember that your loved ones will make fun of you when you buy hundreds of Christmas cards.  Time will tell on that one, though; I doubt the holiday is going anywhere.  My grandchildren will thank me for not having to buy their own Christmas cards.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Browser Games: Elements the Game

When you have an internet connection and boredom, one of the few solutions is browser games.  The only problem with this is sorting through the massive amount of games out there (currently 32,005 on Kongregate alone) to find something that is free and fun before you run out of free time/ lose your internet connection/ get fired.

One game that I've enjoyed over the last few months is Elements (the game, not the Periodic Table of).
Elements is a Flash Based Trading Card Game, which most closely resembles Magic the Gathering.  The game is easy to pickup, but there is a lot of strategy if you want to get into it.  This next section details the differences between this game and Magic the Gathering and has no dirty language, so feel free to skip it, or read over it while daydreaming that I wrote something mildly entertaining.

If you are familiar with Magic the major differences are:

  • Elements has 12 colors instead of 5.
  • Lands are called pillars/towers/pendulums, and the mana (called Quanta) they produce does not clear at the end of each turn.
  • Creatures attack the turn you play them, but cannot play abilities until your next turn.
  • Creatures do not heal at the end of every turn.
  • You can only play cards or activate abilities on your turn.
  • You don't have to spend hundreds of dollars on cards.
Other than that, the games are fairly similar.

If you never played Magic you can still enjoy Elements; the tutorial is very good and will get you up to speed pretty quick.  My advice would be to pick Darkness or Aether for a starter deck, a lot of the other elements do not work very well by themselves.  I blindly picked Entropy my first time through and had to restart.  If you like the game you might want to check out the wiki starting with the aptly named Guide to Success in Elements.  The end-game for single player comes after you complete all the quests when you can go up against the False Gods.  They cheat by breaking the rules.  They draw two cards a turn, and can have more than 6 of a card in their decks for starters.  Still, they can be defeated if you plan a good deck.  The challenge kept me going back.

Elements can be found at their creatively titled website
If that is down or blocked by some sort of content filter the Elements team also host their game at
Finally, you can also play it from Kongregate to earn a few badges over there.
Once you create an account at one of their sites it is valid at all locations, which is a nice feature.


  • The game has regular updates and usually releases several new cards per update.
  • The game is well adapted to being an online card game.  Certain abilities such as mutation and the pandemonium card would not work in a non electronic format.
  • Three separate hosting sites make it likely that you'll be able to load at least one of them.
  • Free to play.  No pop-up ads or anything that annoying, and people who *do* donate are not granted any ridiculously powerful cards.

  • The challenge curve is pretty steep in some areas, it is very hard to earn your first victory against the false gods.  
  • If you pick a bad starting element, you may need to restart.  Not a major loss early on though.
Final Thoughts:
Elements is a complicated but entertaining flash game.  Unlike most "free" multi-player games this one doesn't give any advantages to people who donate, and doesn't punish you for not playing everyday.  The community is active, and friendly.  There's not much more that you can ask, other than them making an iPhone app to compensate for Apple's seething hatred for Adobe, which burns seven times as hot as our sun.  Where was I?

Monday, August 23, 2010

iPhone Apps: EpicWin

This might be the only app that I have wanted before it was even released.  Now that I have it on my phone, I have to admit that I'm not sure what I was expecting, but I did not get it.

The EpicWin app costs $2.99 at the app store, and allows you to level up and gain stats for doing things you would rather not do.  This is a great concept, and has been ever since XKCD came up with it.  When you download it you are asked to choose an avatar and a name.  If you are like me and close the app before getting past this screen, well done you've unlocked the indecisive achievement, and are rewarded with being forced to reinstall the application.

Once past this initial test, and into the app itself, we find a basic to-do list.  Click the pencil to create a task, then type in the details, and assign it an XP value.  Once you complete a task hold down the task to complete it, and gain the XP, loot, and/or levels.  Then swipe your finger across the task to delete it.  Pretty simple.  There is a screen to show your current status and another to show all the loot you found.  You can also set up tweeting to tell people what item you found for doing what.

  • Entertaining concept
  • A to-do list can be a powerful organizing force and help you complete your daily tasks.
  • Some glaring bugs are present in the current version(1.0), some of which require re-installation of the app to fix.
  • No ability to compare your avatars with your friends.
  • There are many cheaper and easier to use alternatives.
Final Thoughts
After creating a few tasks and completing them, I did not feel a huge urge to continue using the application.  It takes a little to long to write down tasks for my tastes.  Writing my to-do list on paper, or typing it using a real keyboard into Gmail tasks is much more efficient.  It would be better if they had a method to enter tasks into their website which would push them to your phone.  Another feature that would make this better would be to allow you to share a code with friends and family, allowing them to drop tasks onto your queue.  I know a few people who would love to help their significant other level up.

Ultimately, the app does not have that much to it.  I would have like to have seen a way to compare my progress against my friends.  In order to do this though, the experience system might need to be changed, as the honor system it currently uses would be very open to abuse in a competitive atmosphere.

To make a long review short (too late) there are much better ways to spend $2.99.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Iphone Games: Civilization Revolution

There is a ton of applications for the iPhone, even if sometimes it is hard to find what you are looking for in the wealth of fart-based-applications (currently over 120 when I gave up counting).

I was going to review two games today, but I had way too much to say about Civilization.

Civilization Revolution

Most people who have played computer games have either played or are familiar with the Civilization series.  Starting with Civilization launched in 1991, and extending to Civilization V (which is currently in production), Civilization is a fairly epic series consisting of ten games (counting Alpha Centauri) with more than five expansions.  If you haven't played the series, the games are turn based strategy, and start you off with the first settlers of a civilization.  You are charged to found a town, research technology, expand your empire through conquest or settlement, and not run afoul of the 4-6 computer players trying to do the same thing.  They are all really fun games, but as you progress each turn gets longer and longer as you manage your growing amount of cities and units.  It is typical to keep saying "one more turn" until you've played far longer than you planned.  On to specifics:

Civilization Revolution costs $0.99 which is pretty cheap for Civilization on your phone.  A lite version is available for free, but limits you to 3/16 rulers, 2/5 difficulties more importantly stops your game before you enter the modern age, which comes pretty quickly.  You also are unable to save your game.

  • The graphics and sound are good, and the interface works quite well with the touch screen. 
  • Most importantly though, Its Civilization... on your phone.  This is a very good thing.
  • You have no control over map generation, and every map is fairly small.  Its not uncommon to have all your opponents on the same landmass.  
  • There are quite a few naval units, but no compelling reason to build any of them, due to the lack of oceans.  Maybe this was a needed concession to get the game on the phone, but I really enjoy playing on sprawling maps.
  • There is no way to turn off battle animations, which get old pretty quickly.
Final Thoughts:  The game seems to go pretty quick and easy on King and below, but Deity is very challenging.  Something that you only find out if you read the on screen instructions to the very last page is that you can combine three of the same units into an army which is much more powerful.  This is fairly important to do.  Units gain experience and odd abilities such as additional move or damage.  Every so often you still see odd things such as archers taking out a tank.  

If you have ever played Civilization before and liked it, I would recommend downloading the full version for a dollar.  If you haven't played it before, it is certainly worth your time to download the lite version.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

How to: Sign onto multiple gmail accounts in one browser

I'm going to write about something useful today, something that may save your life.  And, yes by save your life I mean save you a few seconds if you fall into the demographic who this would even be useful to.

Hopefully this makes up for the time you wasted reading my introduction, and this sentence rationalizing it.

If you use multiple gmail accounts for whatever reason, normally you have to sign out of one to access the other one, or use a different browser window.  As of Thursday you can now access both at the same time.

  1. Go here http://www.google.com/accounts
  2. Click the edit link next to Multiple sign-in
  3. Read and check the boxes
  4. Log off of all your gmail accounts
  5. Log onto gmail with your primary account.
  6. Click on your email address
  7. Select Sign on to new account.
Pretty useful, especially when you get occasionally important mail in your junk mail like I do.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Movie Review: Inception

Last night I saw the movie Inception for the first time.  Yes yes, I live on the moon, in a cave, and under a rock.

Onto the general movie review:  Inception was interesting and entertaining, even if I had a lot of trouble deciding whether of not I liked it.  Inception is a heist movie, focused on dreams.  A vaguely original idea from Hollywood?  I'm scared too.  Anyways,.it had just the right level of complication to keep me paying attention, but not enough to the point where you have to watch the movie twice to figure it out.  At times things happen that don't immediately make sense, but the movie does circle back and explain it if you pay attention.  The soundtrack is well done as you'd expect from Hans Zimmer.  Inception starred Leonardo diCaprio, a bunch of familiar looking co-stars I cannot quite recognize, and Michael Caine (best known for his starring role in the best movie ever.)  The special effects were well done, flashy, but not distracting.

In the negative column, the movie pushed one of my buttons by throwing out the Scare Chord with reckless abandon.  I hate the scare chord in a horror movie, but at least I'm expecting to be annoyed.  I expect better from my thrillers.  (In the movie's defense, Christopher Nolan originally wrote it as a horror movie)  I thought I had more to write in this section, but since I don't I'll declare Inception worth watching.

In conclusion, this movie was coherent and entertaining, making it the polar opposite of the last movie I saw about dreams, What Dreams May Come.

Final rating:  72/89 Hurgnirs